House of Commons Hansard #104 of the 39th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was budget.

Topics

Budget Implementation Act, 2008
Government Orders

3:15 p.m.

NDP

Dennis Bevington Western Arctic, NT

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for his dissertation on Bill C-50. It is certainly one that we have spoken to many times in the past in the House.

When we look at the state of economy that we have heard coming forward in the last report on the gross domestic product, for instance, which has slipped by 0.3% over the last three months, even at a time when our resource profits and the huge increase in the price of oil and natural gas have occurred in the country, one would think that these types of activities in the economy would by themselves create a positive nature in the gross domestic product. However, we are seeing a drop.

Quite clearly, the losers are losing and the winners are winning very strongly with this budget. Where is the fairness in the budget, in the corporate sector at least, where so many companies that are trying so hard now to remain afloat are having such great difficulty?

Budget Implementation Act, 2008
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3:20 p.m.

NDP

Peter Julian Burnaby—New Westminster, BC

Mr. Speaker, the member for Western Arctic is, as usual, very eloquent and is absolutely right.

In study after study by KPMG and Price Waterhouse, it has been confirmed that the corporate sector gets its major source of subsidy from Canada's health care system. Therefore, the primary level of competitiveness that comes from Canadian companies is due to our publicly subsidized health care system. A company in Canada does not have to pay the health care premiums that a company in the United States or in other countries has to pay. Our public health care system is a major source of subsidy and support to Canadian companies.

What happens? Because we obviously have a mathematically challenged finance minister and a Prime Minister who learned his economics from a textbook and never actually had to meet a payroll in his life, instead of adjusting corporate income taxes so the corporate sector picks up part of the cost of that extensive subsidy, they give more money to the corporate CEOs.

On the one hand, we subsidize, through public support, health care, but as health care declines, instead of providing more funds for that, which would be a greater support for Canadian companies at the same time as it is greater support for ordinary Canadian working families, we see the opposite. The Conservatives cut back in health care and make the health care system worse but they give tens of billions of dollars in corporate tax cuts; $6 in corporate tax cuts for every $1 in new program funding. That is absolutely disgraceful.

However, I did find one element in the budget that purports to help working people and it is the announcement the minister made about a tax-free savings account. He compared it to RRSPs. Canadians would assume that means that the money going into a savings account is tax free. That is not at all the case. This is just another case of Conservative snake oil. The money going into that tax-free savings account is fully taxed. It is only the small interest income that the individual gets that is tax-free.

That is just another example of how little the Conservative government does for ordinary working families. It is a disaster. It is as bad as the former Liberal government and that is saying a lot.

Budget Implementation Act, 2008
Government Orders

June 3rd, 2008 / 3:20 p.m.

Liberal

Andrew Telegdi Kitchener—Waterloo, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have the opportunity to engage in the debate on third reading, particularly as it pertains to section 6 of Bill C-50, which deals with the changes to the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act.

The changes that are being proposed are major structural and draconian changes to our Immigration and Refugee Protection Act. To put such important structural changes in conjunction with a budget implementation bill shows the government's contempt for the institution of Parliament, the citizenship and immigration committee, new Canadians and all Canadians.

I need not remind the government that immigration has been the lifeblood of this country, that immigration is the lifeblood of this country and that immigration will continue to be the lifeblood of this country.

Any thoughtful person in Canada knows that we are faced with serious demographic challenges. Within the next four years, 100% of our net growth in labour will be met through immigration. This issue is one of great importance to the future of our country.

When section 6 was put into the budget implementation act, it is amazing that no reference was made by the government to the citizenship and immigration committee. The reason we have standing committees of Parliament is to hold the government, the minister and the bureaucracy accountable. That is the very basis of our parliamentary system. The government tried to bypass that process and, to a large extent, it has bypassed the process.

It so happened that the finance committee of this House of Commons referred a question pertaining to changes to the Immigration Act, section 6, over to the citizenship and immigration committee and asked us to respond to it. In considering the changes, the committee tripled its number of sittings. It held extraordinary sittings to ensure we could hear from Canadians.

I will tell members what happened. When the government announced Bill C-50, the committee was just starting to undertake a cross country consultation in every capital city on the issues of undocumented workers, temporary foreign workers and immigration consultants. The Conservative members on the committee would not allow us to talk about Bill C-50 as it pertained to the changes to the Immigration Act.

Members can just imagine the incredible wasted opportunity we had at that point not to be able to talk to Canadians. Every time we got into the issue of witnesses trying to make representation on Bill C-50, the parliamentary secretary objected very strongly.

We need to revisit the rules because it puts us in disrepute as a parliamentary committee conducting consultations across the country and we are not talking about the most important issue on the parliamentary agenda, which is section 6 of Bill C-50. However, as I mentioned, we did the best we could. We held hearings and extended the hours of those hearings.

I want to share with members of the House what one witness said to the committee. The name of this witness was submitted by the parliamentary secretary as being someone who should be speaking to Bill C-50.

Mr. Warren Creates, head of the Immigration Law Group with Perley-Robertson, Hill & McDougall, said:

Thanks for asking me to participate in this important piece of your parliamentary business.

When this legislation was introduced on March 14, I was on national television that night--it was a Friday--speaking in support of it. With reflection and in the fullness of time, I have considered it more carefully and want to share my thoughts with you.

The minister announced on that day that this legislation would reduce the backlog; would restrict the size and cost of maintaining a large and outdated inventory; would result in faster processing; would result in improved service--or, as she was quoted saying, just-in-time inventory--aimed at reducing the wait time to an average of one year; would make the system more responsive and nimble to immediate regional economic needs by listing and selecting strategic or priority occupations; and really, we couldn't continue to build a warehouse that would occupy these hundreds of thousands of applications, when every year we were selecting only about 250,000 to get visas.

Those were the political comments made at the time in support of the legislation, and I was one who then supported the initiative. Now I'm a very different person as I appear in front of you today. I've gone 180 degrees, because it's clear to me now what effect this legislation is going to have.

First of all, it's going to move some categories of applicants to the front of the line and delay other categories. As the minister continues to move categories to the front of the line, including the Canada experience class that we'll see at the end of this summer, there is no front of the line any more. There are so many priority silos in the business of this government now. I'll list them for you: interdiction, enforcement, refugees, visitors, students, work permits, spouses, children, provincial nominee programs, and soon the expanded Canada experience class. It's not going to be possible, with this legislation and the existing platform of resources, to deliver the promises of this minister. There is no front of the line.

What I find particularly heinous or egregious is proposed subsection 87.3(2), which talks about the opinion of the minister. The legislation says:

The processing of applications and requests is to be conducted in a manner that, in the opinion of the Minister, will best support the attainment of the immigration goals.

Since when do we live in a country where the minister decides what happens with something as important as the immigration program?

Our immigration officers in Canada and outside Canada should never be accountable to the minister. They should instead be accountable to our Constitution, our charter, the legislation and laws of this country, this House, and this parliamentary process that gets the views of stakeholders. That's what's important.

We're going to see in this legislation the erosion of the sacred rule of law principle that this country is built on. Democracy is shrinking because of Bill C-50. Processing priorities, which we have already decided by a tried, tested, and true established and transparent parliamentary procedure for both legislative and regulatory change, will now be reduced to stakeholder input.

I will not read any more of that but I will say that this person, when he first heard the announcement around section 6 of Bill C-50, stood and applauded it and supported it. As soon as he was able to examine what it really meant we see the results. That is what I quoted and he was very much in opposition.

Another issue which the person talked about, and it should be talked about, is what the government claims it was going to accomplish.

The government has taken the unprecedented step of spending $4 million to spread misinformation to Canadians, by buying ads in the ethnic media. It is making the same kinds of claims that were made to that gentleman, who is a lawyer and who, upon examination, rejected those claims. The minister said, and this is an important issue, “Currently, the immigration backlog sits at 925,000 applications. This means that the wait time for an application can be as long a six years”.

The skilled workers class, which is essentially where the growth happened, had a waiting list of 615,000 at the end of 2007. This is essentially the backlog. Those are the numbers that are important in this debate. It so happens that since the Conservatives have been in office, they have grown this category by over 100,000 in two years. The minister is responsible for 85,000 of that growth. Here we have a minister saying that she is going to reduce the backlog, but the reality is that it was on her watch that the backlog grew.

Regarding the claim made by the Conservatives in terms of dealing with the backlog, let us take a look at another standard of performance. What has happened to the backlog at the Immigration and Refugee Board?

When the Liberals left office, there was a backlog of less than 20,000. The processing time was being reduced. It was less than a year and we had hoped to get it down to six months. For the first time we had turned the corner on the program. It had been put in place initially by the Conservatives under Brian Mulroney and actually was a beehive of patronage appointments, but we changed it to a merit based system and the Liberal government did not interfere in the appointment of IRB members.

The Conservative government came in and it failed to fill the vacant positions. Of a 160 member Immigration and Refugee Board, there were about 100 members. The Conservatives grew the backlog from less than 20,000 to about 45,000 today, which is going to hit 60,000 or 62,000 by the end of the year.

The time to process the claims has increased to 18 months and that is if there is no appeal. If there is an appeal, because of the shortage of IRB members, they cannot even take time to make a booking because they just do not have the people power to process it.

That is one claim the minister made. I think I have shed some light on the fact that the rhetoric does not meet the record of the government.

The government in this ad, upon which the government is in the process of spending $4 million, promises more resources. It states, “More resources: An additional $109 million to speed up the application process”. That is over five years. That works out to something like $22 million a year. The Liberals put in $700 million, which breaks down to $140 million a year to deal with the backlog and make the system more efficient. The Conservative government got rid of the $700 million and put back $109 million. That is a cut of $600 million.

The government is promising faster processing times. We know the reality. The processing times have gone up under the Conservative government's watch. While I talk about the processing times going up, I might also mention that the government missed the number of immigration landings that the Conservatives themselves promised would take place in 2007. This was the first time in the past decade that the targets were not met.

The government talked about complete processing, that all applications currently in the backlog would be processed. There is really no credibility in the claim by the government. It is really an insult to all parliamentarians, to this institution itself, and to Canadians that the government would do advertising on legislation that still has not been passed. I can only say that we expected better from a government that promised transparency, that promised to do things differently, that promised accountability, that promised parliamentary reform. What we have are promises upon which the government has not delivered.

In closing, the open and transparent process of objectively selecting immigrants coming to this country was pioneered by Canada. It is a process that has been copied by Australia, by New Zealand and by many nations in Europe. The United States Senate is studying it because it looks to us as the leaders in this area. What we are doing is walking away from that process.

The reason we have that process is steeped in our history. It is steeped in the reality of the evolution of this country. I remind the House of the Asian exclusion act, the Chinese head tax, the internment of Ukrainians, the Komagata Maru, the SS St. Louis. I remind the House of a time when immigration policy essentially discriminated against people from various countries because of the colour of their skin or because of their religion. That is why, because of our sorry history and the sufferings of many Canadians, we pioneered a process that was open and transparent, where it was done objectively. The Conservative government is walking away from that process, a process that we should be proud of. We pioneered this process.

What do we have? We have a Conservative government which, when it came into office, did it reach out to a member of its party who is competent and knowledgeable on these issues to help with the necessary reforms? The member for Calgary—Nose Hill is a very experienced member. She served on the citizenship and immigration committee. She knows the portfolio. Did the Conservatives appoint her? No, they appointed a rookie minister who has no previous experience in the immigration and citizenship portfolio, none, zero, zilch. That person was in office for less than a year and the Conservatives replaced him. Did they replace him with someone who is knowledgeable on the portfolio, such as the member for Calgary—Nose Hill? No, sir. They replaced that person with another minister who has absolutely no understanding or knowledge of citizenship and immigration, but who gets high ranking in the Conservative hierarchy because her husband happens to be a major organizer for the Prime Minister, the leader of the Conservative Party.

As I said before, immigration has been, is and will continue to be the lifeblood of this country. I call upon the government to come to its senses and make the necessary changes that we can embrace in order to maintain objectivity and transparency. Let us continue to be leaders.

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3:40 p.m.

NDP

Peter Julian Burnaby—New Westminster, BC

Mr. Speaker, I listened with interest to my hon. colleague. I appreciate the sacrifices that he has made. He was the only member of the Liberal Party, aside from a small group of the leadership, who actually voted against Bill C-50 and for the NDP amendments that would have taken out the most egregious aspects of the immigration changes and the theft from the employment insurance fund. Essentially, he was the one Liberal who said, “I am going to vote along with the NDP for these amendments and I will vote against Bill C-50”.

The appalling results last night were that aside from the hon. member, there were only 11 other Liberals who were in the House and Bill C-50 was allowed to move from report stage to third reading. Because somewhere around 84 or 85 Liberals were absent last night, that essentially allowed the Conservative government to move forward with an agenda, which the hon. member has said very clearly is not a good agenda for Canada, and I admire him for it. I realize he has been punished by his leader for having spoken up. I am grateful that there is one Liberal who is willing to stand up in the House and show some backbone.

My question for him is very simple. What can he do when his own leader refuses to stop any aspect of the Conservative Party agenda? For over a year now in confidence vote after confidence vote we have seen Liberals endorsing the Conservatives' agenda. Every single time, all the Conservatives have to do is mention the “c” word, confidence, and the Liberals and the Liberal leader automatically vote for whatever it is, regardless of the consequences for the country, regardless of what it means for ordinary working families.

How does the member feel about his own party simply not standing up for the principles that he has enunciated in this House and for which he actually voted last night, principles on which the NDP has led, amendments to this bad, bad bill in order to move forward with a budget that actually would do something for working people? When his own party has left him, where does that leave him?

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3:45 p.m.

Liberal

Andrew Telegdi Kitchener—Waterloo, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am going to look back to December 2005 when a choice had to be made. At that time the NDP and the Bloc joined forces to bring down the then Liberal government. This was done after ignoring the pleas of most progressive forces in this country, be it the Sierra Club, environmentalists, child care advocates, first nations, and the list goes on.

The Liberal Party is opposed to Bill C-50. My party is also cognizant of the political reality that the Conservative government wants an election on Bill C-50, particularly as it relates to part 6.

Conservative members observed what happened in the last provincial election where the ADQ used immigrant bashing in the province of Quebec and almost formed the government. We saw that intolerance generated during the course of the reasonable accommodation debate. Make no mistake about it, the Conservative Party had this very much in mind in terms of trying to trigger an election on Bill C-50.

The decision to trigger an election belongs to the official opposition because without it there will be no election and our leader is cognizant of that. As much as I counselled our leader at the time of the Throne Speech and on numerous other occasions that we should go to an election, thinking better now than letting the Conservatives do any damage, I have to be cognizant of the fact that we have a responsibility to make sure that those folks across the way, the neo-conservative party in the House, never form a majority government.

It is the job of the leader to frame the question on what the next election is going to be fought on. That day is coming. I see an election being called around the issue of the carbon tax because most opposition parties want to reduce our carbon output. It would shift the economy to reward things that are good and would penalize things that we want less.

I am not the leader of my party, but I do have a strong interest in citizenship and immigration and issues related to the charter. I do occupy a place in the House that no member with my years of experience occupies. This gives me a good view of what is going on and it also affords me the opportunity to get a bird's eye view not only of all members from the backbenches forward but in the opposition as well.

Budget Implementation Act, 2008
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3:50 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Royal Galipeau

Questions and comments.

I would like to avoid having a dialogue at this moment and allow other members of the House to ask questions.

The hon. member for Scarborough--Rouge River is standing to ask a question. He has one minute.

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3:50 p.m.

Liberal

Derek Lee Scarborough—Rouge River, ON

Mr. Speaker,--

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3:50 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Royal Galipeau

The hon. member for Burnaby--New Westminster is rising on a point of order.

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3:50 p.m.

NDP

Peter Julian Burnaby—New Westminster, BC

Mr. Speaker, as you know, the Standing Orders say that when a member has risen for questions and comments and no other member has risen, that member must be recognized. I rose and asked to be recognized. Unfortunately, Mr. Speaker, you are now asking members from the Liberal Party to ask questions among themselves. That is not in accordance with the Standing Orders.

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3:50 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Royal Galipeau

I appreciate the good advice that the hon. member is giving me. I would like to remind him that I have been more than generous toward him, today and on other occasions.

I also do not like to have members of the same party asking questions of members who have just spoken, but I have to deal with the cards that are dealt to me.

Right now I am recognizing the hon. member for Scarborough—Rouge River. Unfortunately, the one minute has now been cut in half.

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3:50 p.m.

Liberal

Derek Lee Scarborough—Rouge River, ON

Mr. Speaker, thank you for promoting a wider, open debate. The member for Burnaby—New Westminster has had a lot of air time.

I just wanted to comment and there may not be time for a reply.

The bill contains a provision in relation to the immigration act that creates something called an instruction, which goes into the envelope of statutory instruments and regulations, but it is not either of those things. It is a new approach. It is different. It sounds expedient, but it may vary from rule of law. I am curious if the member, who has the floor now, has a view about the use of such an instrument in this circumstance.

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3:50 p.m.

Liberal

Andrew Telegdi Kitchener—Waterloo, ON

Very quickly, Mr. Speaker, regulations are a much better way to go. That is the present practice. It allows scrutiny, transparency and accountability. Let me also just close off by saying that the temporary foreign worker issue is particularly egregious in the bill. My simple feeling on that issue is that if individuals are good enough to work here, they are good enough to live here, become Canadians, and help build the country.

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3:50 p.m.

NDP

Denise Savoie Victoria, BC

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to rise to speak to Bill C-50. I want to touch on a number of issues, one relating to the widening income gap that we are seeing in Canada. On another issue, I want to touch on some solutions that my colleagues and I have proposed.

I also want to talk about what the government could have done with some of the money received from Canadians other than continuing to subsidize large oil and gas companies and other big corporations. I also want to speak about the changes to the immigration act, as they will really touch some of my constituents who come into my office to speak to me.

The latest census figures paint a grim picture of our economy. While incomes for the richest 20% of Canadians have increased, the poorest have become poorer and meanwhile the incomes of those in the middle have just simply flatlined. This is according to the recent Statistics Canada report.

This corporate wealth grab is the result of a well orchestrated partnership with neo-liberal governments of past decades. The Thomas d'Aquinos have syphoned off all the benefits. We hear a lot about the trickle down effect. I am sure that it might make sense if it were not for the sponges at the top that are preventing any kind of trickle down.

In Victoria alone, according to recent research published from a “Quality of Life Challenge” report, parents need to make almost $16.50 an hour just to earn a basic living wage. It reports that 27.2% of families in B.C.'s capital fall below the acceptable living standard line. What is more alarming is that the research reveals that the majority of parents had 70 hour work weeks, the equivalent of two full time jobs. This is up 10 hours from last year.

What we see also are young people, aboriginal and immigrants, who are marginalized and trapped in part time, unstable, low paying McJobs, despite the government's rhetoric about job creation.

It is important for all of us in the House to talk seriously about the living wage. Victoria's housing costs are among the highest in the country. While the unemployment rate is the lowest in nearly four decades, I concede, employment trends are toward more low wage, part time and more insecure jobs that support the service sector, including tourism.

The labour pool will continue shrinking as the boomers retire and not many families with children can afford to live in Victoria. Only a small number of new immigrants make their homes in my riding. Young people tend to move away.

When more people are paid a living wage, the quality of life in the community improves. That is well known. A healthy economy attracts families, businesses and tourists. A living wage begins to close that income gap that we are seeing and reduces the number of people who are disadvantaged because of poverty.

In the study that I mentioned, expenses for a family of four were calculated on approximately $4,600 income per month. The rent took the largest bite with about $1,300, approximately 28% of costs, but it was closely followed by child care which amounted to approximately $1,000 a month, and then food and transportation costs. However, we know that food prices are rising exponentially.

This is where the government's neo-liberal approach is failing Canadian businesses and families. The federal government's absence from the table to make housing more affordable in Canada is inexcusable. The government's inaction in establishing national standards for child care and providing multi-year funding is adding to the crisis that families face.

These are all actions that we know would help working families and small businesses.

A couple of months ago, I met with some mayors of rural communities in the province of British Columbia. They told me that the absence of a national child care system and stable multi-year funding from the federal government were creating serious problems for those communities' ability to attract new businesses, because business owners know that they will not be able to attract employees.

High living costs are impacting businesses as well. They are having difficulty in attracting employees to our own high priced city and retaining them. Despite historically low unemployment and new sources of wealth creation, poverty in British Columbia's capital region, particularly among the working poor, is unacceptably high.

I was intrigued to read in the Statistics Canada report a couple of weeks ago that in 2007 British Columbia had its second best year for retail sales since 1995. That was a 6.7% increase over the previous year in Victoria, yet Victoria's downtown shopping centre, with its report of double digit sales growth for most of 2007, showed that the actual number of shoppers going through its doors was flat.

There is something wrong there. Or if it is not wrong, it is at least interesting that businesses have higher sales but fewer shoppers. Perhaps this indicates that fewer shoppers were simply purchasing more. This could be explained by the fact that in Victoria more than 30% of residents live below the poverty line and are unable to shop for anything beyond the very basics of food, transportation and so on.

This percentage could be reduced if more people who want to return to work were able to do so. At the moment, they are hampered by the fact that affordable day care, for example, is simply not available in the capital city of British Columbia.

Another recent report, from the University of British Columbia's Human Early Learning Partnership, highlighted an immediate need of 13,000 child care spaces for children from infant to school age. These numbers clearly cry out for a high quality national day care program to be put in place.

Along with high quality child care, education and skills training must be the starting point in breaking the cycle of poverty and illiteracy and ensuring Canada's competitiveness in the knowledge economy. Yet since 1995, when the then Liberal government initiated devolution for training to the provinces, Canada has remained leaderless in setting national standards or certification and qualification systems.

An OECD report,“Beyond Rhetoric: Adult Learning Policies and Practices”, states:

Governments' influence over national legislation and public resourcing policies is perhaps the most important way it can express clear commitment to supporting integrated policies for adult learning.

We need government policies, legislation and regulation that facilitate adult learning. We need financial incentives that encourage firms to invest in their workforce or incentives for individuals to engage in learning. All of this was cut by the Conservative government in last year's budget, at a crucial time when we know that many Canadians still lack the fundamental skills they need to move ahead.

Basic skills training and equitable access to education obviously remain a low priority for the government. Many Canadians come to my office and tell me about training needs and the difficulty in accessing programs. According to a recent Canadian Council on Learning report, 30% of Canadian workers reported in 2002 that there was job related training they needed or wanted to take, but they were unable to do so.

Although I realize this represents partly the former government's under-investment in training, important issues remain. Not enough is being done, and certainly not in this budget, to address the problem nationally.

Along the same lines, many families have spoken to me about the high cost of education. Without a meaningful investment in student grants for students of low income and middle income families, the Conservatives' transfer of funds from the Millennium Scholarship Foundation to a government-administered grants system will do nothing to improve access. If it is essential to our prosperity, why are we not doing more?

Not only does the lack of skilled workers affect ordinary Canadians' ability to cope, but it is impacting businesses. Small and medium-sized enterprises, which make up Victoria's business community, face greater barriers. Some small business owners have told me that poaching is a real problem for them. If the Conservatives chose to act on the employability report recommendations, it could help address these issues.

The employability report was tabled several months ago. If the government decided to implement these recommendations, it could help reduce the problems associated with poverty and also help small and medium-sized enterprises. I would like to mention a few of these recommendations. One of them recommends:

that the federal government provide funding to assist individuals who agree to relocate to enter employment in occupations experiencing skills shortages.

That is exactly the type of recommendation submitted by my colleague for Hamilton Mountain to the government. Another recommendation proposes “a national agency for the assessment and recognition of credentials, especially foreign credentials”.

Yet another calls on the government to consider:

expanding and restructuring the apprenticeship job creation tax credit and the apprenticeship incentive grant to encourage growth in apprenticeships and the completion of apprenticeship training generally.

Several recommendations seek to make access to education more equitable. At present, low to middle income families find it quite difficult to pay the very high tuition fees charged by Canadian universities.This employability report recommended that the federal student loan interest rate be considerably reduced or simply eliminated.

At present, students from low to middle income families have less access to education than students from rich families. Although the government has announced some changes and improvements to the administration of the student loans system, which I certainly applaud, there remain many bureaucratic and administrative problems to be resolved. We recommended the creation of an ombudsman for student loans to promote the better use of the loan system.

Various recommendations of this type would help solve the problems faced by many Canadians with respect to precarious jobs and would also help small businesses facing labour shortages.

I also wish to take a few minutes to speak about the changes to the immigration act that the government has proposed. These changes are going to encourage queue jumping. They are going to make family reunification more precarious and that is of serious concern.

I want to give members two typical cases. I could give many cases, but these two really illustrate some of the basic problems.

We are all aware that there are problems with the huge backlog of applications that has accumulated over the last decade, and these problems must be solved. However, they should not be solved by simply accepting that we have an immigration policy that becomes totally arbitrary, withdrawing it from the purview of Parliament and putting it in the hands of one person, the minister.

The son of one of my constituents, for example, still has not received a visa after many years. We have contacted the Canadian embassy in Nairobi. When it did not respond to our emails, I called the ministerial inquiries division and asked it to check into the situation. I was told that Nairobi was waiting for the medicals to arrive from the doctor, but when we spoke to the constituent, she said that she had called the doctor's office and had not heard back.

The message is that this reunification of a mother and a son has taken an unacceptably long time. This is not a problem that we will solve by simply making the kinds of changes that render our immigration policy totally arbitrary.

We need that family reunification clause. It is an important aspect of our policy, a longstanding policy that Canada offers to families we welcome in our country to allow them to better settle here.

I would like to give a couple of other examples. Back in 2004, one of my constituents and his wife began the process of applying to sponsor her parents from the Ukraine. It took two years before the application was actually received in the embassy in the Ukraine, which was November 2006. They continue to wait. My question is, why does it take so long to reunite a family?

I see that I have a couple of minutes left and would like to end by touching just briefly on the environment. The 2008 budget does not take decisive action to tackle climate change. It continues to reflect a regressive approach to the issue, focusing on such measures as carbon sequestration to further increase the development of the tar sands rather than a comprehensive program to reverse climate change.

Just in the past few days, we have seen Ontario and Quebec get together to put in place measures to curb greenhouse gas emissions, as have B.C. and Manitoba. As the Globe and Mail stated, the country's most populous provinces “are turning their backs on Ottawa” by setting up a cap and trade system.

Faced with the government's inaction, Canadian premiers are giving up on Ottawa. For example, Quebec's and Ontario's use of 1990 emission levels as a baseline for setting caps contrasts with the government's baseline, which is 2006.

The Minister of the Environment said just today in the House during question period that Canada must actually reduce greenhouse gas emissions. I wish he would actually take action to do that rather than maintain the Conservative government's intensity based targets--

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4:10 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Royal Galipeau

It is with regret that I must interrupt the hon. member. Questions and comments, the hon. member for Scarborough—Rouge River.

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4:10 p.m.

Liberal

Derek Lee Scarborough—Rouge River, ON

Mr. Speaker, I enjoyed listening to the member's remarks. She covered a great deal of territory and a lot of points.

I want to address the immigration component of her remarks. I suggest that the backlog she describes, while it is real and while it numbers some 800,000 or 900,000 people, is not necessarily a function of anything that Canada has done wrong. At least in part, the backlog is there because of the increased demand in coming to Canada.

Canada still is taking 250,000 to 300,000 new Canadians every year. We continue to generally meet our immigration targets. I am not so sure if we have even asked Canadian communities if they would be in a position to accept another 100,000 or 200,000 per year. That is a whole other question. We now take about 300,000 per year and can our Canadian communities absorb more than that?

We are really looking at a way to manage the increased demand for entry to Canada. I am curious to know whether she believes the measures in the four sections in the budget implementation bill will manage to address that issue of higher demand and increasing the backlog, which some people can regard as an inventory of immigration applicants wishing to come to Canada.